The ravioli press is yet another project that has a fascinating story behind it. My mom is Italian and a few years ago one of her cousins contacted her about an old family recipe for ravioli.
Now I remember eating ravioli as a kid that my grandmother and great-grandmother had made. Yet I had no idea the depth of the colorful story behind the recipe.
My mom's family brought the ravioli recipe from Italy to the United States. With the recipe, they brought a mysterious wooden ravioli press that has been duplicated and passed back, forth, and down through several generations.
I had never paid much attention to the press beyond that fact that it produced delicious ravioli at the hands of my great-grandmother. That is until my mom's cousin wrote a book about the history of my family's ravioli recipe.
You wouldn't think that an entire book could be written about a recipe for ravioli. But in The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, Laura Schenone (my mom's cousin) managed to completely captivate my attention.
I suppose I'm a little biased, being that the story of the ravioli recipe is also part of the story of my family. Even so, if you like ravioli, or the history of food, or even just a good story, the book is definitely worth reading.
So what does all this have to do with woodworking? After reading the book, I decided to build a ravioli press. But apparently the design has changed slightly over the years.
The photo of the original press from Italy has 64 squares. My mom's and my aunt's presses both have only 49 squares. According to my aunt, the smaller press is easier to work with, but the design could be easily adapted to any size.
The press that was passed from my grandmother to my mother has a handle that lacks the elegant curves of the original. So I incorporated the elegant handle of the original with the smaller size of the "newer" presses.
For the material, I chose hard maple because that's what my mom's is. Maple is readily available and is widely used for kitchen utensils like spoons and cutting boards. Beech is also commonly used in the kitchen, but I don't have any personal experience with it.
As an interesting twist, someone suggested that I make a ravioli press out of purple heart. I had never used purple heart before, but the color is quite beautiful. For a stunning effect, you can even mix and match maple and purple heart in the same ravioli press.
Running the grid cross pieces in one direction out of purple heart, and the handle and cross pieces that run in the other direction out of maple, is particularly pretty. I'm not sure why it took someone else pointing it out to me. My favorite woodworking video is instructions for building a cutting board out of...you guessed it, purple heart and maple.
Cutting the grid cross pieces is pretty easily accomplished using a table saw, radial arm saw, router, or combination thereof. For mine, a router was used to cut the dadoes out of a 3/4" board before ripping the grid pieces to the 1/4" thickness. You could also make the cuts with a table saw or radial arm saw, but the idea is to have them all spaced exactly the same.
A little trick I learned (the hard way) is to leave the cuts on the ends as full dadoes (indicated on the drawings by a dashed line) rather than cutting them as notches. By leaving the cross pieces long in this way, the outside pieces are held in place perfectly while the glue dries during assembly. Once the glue has set they can be trimmed close and then sanded flush.
Another thing I learned the hard way is that the grid pieces need to be cut as precisely as possible. Mine weren't cut as accurately as they should have been, resulting in a whole bunch of sanding and fitting to make it all come together properly. If cut correctly, the grid parts should fit snugly and only minimal sanding will be necessary for a flush fit.
As I am often inclined to do, I cheated and had the handle cut on a CNC router. However, it will turn out equally well by cutting it on a band saw or scroll saw. The handle plans are such that if you print them full size you can use the drawing as a pattern to make the cuts. When printing from Adobe, make sure that Page Scaling is set to "None" and not "Fit to Printable Area" or "Shrink to Printable Area". You can check the printed drawing by measuring one of the boxes in the lower right-hand corner.
Before assembly, sand each piece with 220 grit sandpaper. Use a small amount of waterproof wood glue (something like Titebond II) at each joint. If you use too much glue and it squeezes out of the joint, it's very difficult to clean from inside the squares. I also did the final sanding on the handle and the grid assembly separately, before gluing them together.
This design is very easily adjusted for the size or number of ravioli you want to make. Just change the spacing, length, and number of grid cross pieces to suit your liking.
The handle will be a little more difficult to change, so sketch it out on paper first. Draw only one half of the handle and then when you transfer the pattern to wood, both halves will be exactly symmetrical.
I hope you enjoy making a ravioli press as much as I enjoy eating ravioli. To view the plans just click here. If you'd like to download a copy to your computer, right click then "save-as". Either way, you'll need the Adobe reader to view the file.